House Passes Third Weekly Spending Reduction Bill

Today, the House voted to end public financing of political party conventions and presidential campaigns by a vote of 239-160. This is part of a continuing effort on the part of House leadership to make good on their pledge to vote on weekly bills that promote spending restraint. This YouCut initiative was actually started in May 2010 by then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA). Spending cut proposals from members of Congress and the public are posted online and citizens are encouraged to vote for the bill they would like to see enacted. The YouCut initiative has taken on more relevance now that Republicans hold the majority in the House of Representatives and, therefore, have the power to bring these proposals to a vote and the numbers to pass them. Their chances in the closely-divided Senate, however, remain dim.

In the first week of the 112th Congress, the House cut the budgets of its members and committees by at least five percent, saving $35 million each year. There was no action in the second week of Congress due to the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Last week, the House resumed its efforts to cut spending by passing a bill that would reduce the amount of wasteful printing in Congress, saving an estimated $7 million this year.

Today, the House voted to end the Presidential Election Fund. The details of the provision state:

The Presidential Election Campaign Fund provides federal tax dollars in the form of matching funds to candidates in Presidential primaries provided the candidates qualify and agree to abide by certain spending and contribution limits. It provides grants to qualifying Presidential candidates in general elections, if they agree not to accept other contributions. The program also provides grants to sponsor national party conventions. In short, it provides taxpayer subsidies to political candidates and parties. Since 2000, some major candidates have chosen to forgo public financing. While some have argued that providing even more taxpayer funding for this program might entice more candidates to participate, eliminating the program all together would save taxpayers $520 million over ten years and would require candidates and political parties to rely on private donations rather than tax dollars. The amount of funding for the public financing system is determined by checkoffs on income tax returns, and taxpayer participation via the checkoffs has declined from 28.7% in 1980 to 7.3% in 2009.

The Congressional Budget Office has actually estimated that ending this program would reduce the deficit by $617 million over 10 years.

The YouCut program and weekly floor votes serve an important purpose in engaging the public and getting legislators to think seriously about fiscal responsibility. Significant spending cuts will be necessary to bring our finances back in line, and this YouCut program is a creative and interactive way to get ideas on the table and rally support behind debt reduction measures.

However, we all must realize that these bite-size spending reductions are not nearly enough to address our fiscal problems, and that discretionary spending cuts alone cannot get us back onto a sustainable path. Spending on defense and entitlements, as well as revenues, must be part of the discussion to get ourselves out of this fiscal hole. Exercises like CRFB's "Stabilize the Debt" budget simulator can be very useful in viewing the bigger picture. We look forward to hearing more of these ideas in Congress in concert with the administration to address this critical issue.

Below is a table summarizing the YouCut initiatives passed in the House to date:

Date Provision Savings
 1/6/11  Cut House budgets by 5%  $35 million (annually)
 1/19/11  Stop the Over Printing Act  $7 million (annually)
 1/26/11  End the Presidential Election Fund  $617 million (over 10 years)